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Chair's reflections and focus on recovery

26 January 2022

At the beginning of 2022 I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you who have made so many personal sacrifices to keep yourself, your loved ones and your neighbours safe.

And to every single person working in Hywel Dda University Health Board, whatever your role, and to all of our volunteers and our partners, for your extraordinary service caring for patients and our communities in the face of this pandemic – diolch o galon  i chi gyd.

Over the past two years I have heard and seen the most inspiring and humbling acts of personal service and sacrifice.

Our hearts sank when another new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, was identified earlier in the winter, and we all had to dig deep again within ourselves to step up to another challenge. It is extraordinary how already very tired NHS staff have done this again.

Earlier this month, we had to take action to protect health and care provision for the most critically ill, including prioritising outpatient and therapy appointments and clinics for the most urgent patients and temporarily moving urgent cancer surgery to Prince Philip Hospital. Covid-related staff absences, high infection rates and the measures we had to take continue to have an impact on the services we are able to provide. On behalf of the Health Board, I am deeply sorry if you have experienced delays and access to care and treatment.

Our staff are working tirelessly to deliver urgent and emergency care across primary, community and our hospital settings and in both physical and mental health care - going above and beyond every day in the face of unparalleled pressures and challenges. While we believe we may be starting to see the first green shoots of recovery, with coronavirus case rates starting to fall, our hospitals, primary care and community services are likely to remain in a difficult position for some time as we adjust to the changing nature of the pandemic and our workforce returns to normal capacity.

To help we must all continue to be vigilant and practice the simple, common sense measures – such as wearing a mask and social distancing - which have been so effective and which we know work. Also taking a lateral flow test before spending time in crowded or enclosed spaces, visiting people who are at a higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19, or travelling to other areas of Wales or the UK, helps us to track and take preventative measures to control the virus. Please continue to report the results of your lateral flow test, even if negative. Logging your results will help us respond in the best way to care and protect our community.

Anyone visiting our hospitals for an appointment must carry out a lateral flow test at home and have a negative result from that test before travelling to the hospital. This helps protect other patients and staff. If you are planning to visit someone in hospital, please pre-book with the charge nurse or ward sister.

Despite our current position, and the uncertain course of the pandemic, there is undeniably cause for optimism. This time last year we had not long received the vaccines and only 36,611 vaccines had been given in west Wales. At the start of this week, over 830,000 vaccines have been given to people in the Hywel Dda region.

Achieving this was no small feat. Everyone stepped up over the Christmas period to make sure our Mass Vaccination Centres remained open so we could give as many boosters and vaccines as possible. Thank you to our new apprentices, nurses and staff, the military and our volunteers who cancelled their Christmas leave to do so and to all our GP practices and community pharmacists who delivered vaccines though our primary care services. We will not leave anyone behind.

At Hywel Dda University Health Board, we are doing everything we can to ensure we are there for you when you need our care and services.

We continue to need your support as we navigate our way through the pandemic. Please help us to help you to access appropriate help when you need it, for example by checking the online symptom checker here, or by dialling 111 if it is not an emergency.

Pharmacies can also provide some walk-in care, and treatments for common ailments. We also have minor injury units in our region that can treat a broad range of injuries – a list of where they are can be found here. For anything considered urgent, but not an emergency, please seek care through your GP.

Importantly, anyone with a serious, life-threatening emergency should continue to call 999.

One of our biggest challenges is discharging healthy patients from hospital. There are a number of reasons for this; some care homes are unable to accept patients because of COVID outbreaks, there is a lack of social care staff and staff absences in some areas to help care for people at home. This makes it harder to admit new patients, to take people off ambulances and for ambulances to be available to respond to calls in our communities. We are working with our partners to increase social care and we are asking all families and loved ones to help if possible, by providing short-term care at home or considering interim placements in care homes.

As we have done for almost two years, we continue to work together to keep West Wales as safe as possible from this virus by planning for the worst while hoping for the best. Thank you again for supporting us by doing everything you can to look after one another and keep us all safe.